Is It Illegal to Unlock Your Used Cell Phone?

Illegal to unlock phoneAfter the dust has settled from the new development involved with a decade old DMCA law, we can take a closer look at what the ending of the unlock exemption means for everyone with a new or used cell phone. Upon it’s announcement people cried foul of the DMCA’s over broad definition of what is protected under copyright law. That any circumventing of factory installed software to get media is considered a breach of copyright. This is overly broad because you may just jailbreak a device to test your own programs, or unlock because you travel abroad often. But because you COULD use these processes to get to media that you typically wouldn’t, it is illegal under the DMCA. So why did this happen and how?

DMCA is Bad Because it’s Vague

The DMCA’s original intent, if the politicians involved are to be fully trusted, was to protect media from copyright infringement in a growing internet age. The internet, when the DMCA was first brought into the spotlight, was still rather new and unregulated. The internet is still rather unregulated, and almost impossible to do so, but back then they figured writing a law made it so… Anyway, the DMCA’s definition of copyright was vague, probably just as vague as the politicians ideas on what the internet was. Having vague definitions in bills can create chaos in the public. For instance, lets say I made a law that said “polluting public air is illegal”, now this sounds good on the surface, but lets say I don’t define what “polluting” is. Is it from cigarette smoke? Someone exhaling carbon dioxide? Because of it’s overall vague definition of what pollution is, it is very easy for someone to abuse and take advantage of the law.

DMCA and Your Used Cell Phone

This is the case with the DMCA. Because Rooting, jail breaking and unlocking your used cell phone COULD lead to getting to media that is locked/controlled digitally, it is considered illegal simply for it being a possibility. What about the customer? How does this effect an individual? Well, it is highly unlikely individuals will be sued Napster style by big businesses. But smaller businesses that sell used and refurbished cell phones will most likely be easy targets by bigger cell businesses. Lets say you sell your iPhone to us,, and it’s a Verizon device. We know that an unlocked phone is more useful to customers, and will most likely want to unlock the device so more people could be interested in buying the device. This would be illegal, and by doing this our company, and many others like us, could be sued.

The DMCA was originally intended to protect creative works, but because of it’s overly vague and undefined language, it is abused constantly by bigger businesses to stifle competition in the used cell business. Why would bigger business do this? Because the fewer buying options a customer has, the more likely they will buy new product from them, instead of getting a used or refurbished device at a much cheaper price. Yes, this would hurt our, and many other businesses like us, but this can also cause an environmental problem in that, with the lack of a used cell phone market, more phones will end up in landfills. I have said it time and a again in past articles, competition is always a good things, but the DMCA is a threat to competition… Which can lead down a bad road.

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